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St Hugh’s JCR Vice-President resigns due to the College’s ‘antisemitism problem’

St Hugh’s College Junior Common Room (JCR) Vice-President, Madeline Bryant, announced her resignation via email following a JCR meeting on Sunday 26th May, which she described as an experience of “blatant antisemitism.”

At the meeting, which Bryant reported as three hours long, the JCR debated a motion supporting the demands of the Oxford Action for Palestine (OA4P) encampment.

The motion at St Hugh’s is now up for an online vote among JCR members after it was amended during the meeting to include explicit condemnation of antisemitism in Oxford. Similar motions have been passed in dozens of colleges.

Bryant put forward her own motion during the meeting, which asked for “co-existence, dialogue, and a condemnation of the clear antisemitism that has come from some of the members of the encampment.” That motion was discussed first.

Her motion states that some members of the OA4P encampment “minimised students’ lived experiences of antisemitism or used language that intimidates Jewish students like ‘intifada.’” 

It said: “By not actively opposing such harmful rhetoric, the camp has given space to rhetoric that is antisemitic, justifies/refuses to criticise acts of terrorism on civilians, and denies the right of the state of Israel to exist.” It further characterises the slogan “globalise the intifada” as “a call for violence against Jews.”

The motion to support OA4P included a demand that the college cut academic ties with Israel. At the meeting, Bryant argued that St Hugh’s College’s Hebrew language program would effectively end under this demand to which one JCR member allegedly responded “‘So what?” Another member “laughed” when Bryant and another student spoke of their experiences with antisemitism.

Bryant wrote that her resignation “isn’t about Palestinians. It’s about the Jews in Oxford” and concluded her statement by remarking that “St. Hugh’s College has an antisemitism problem.”

The student who proposed the motion to support OA4P, who is Palestinian, told Cherwell that their “voice was minimised” during discussion of the co-existence motion. They also said that the language of the discussion of Bryant’s motion was “appalling to me as a Palestinian Muslim.”

When asked for comment, St Hugh’s College responded that they had “not received any report of alleged anti-Semitism by any St Hugh’s student”, and emphasised that they had “urged any student who experiences or witnesses any unacceptable conduct to report it as a matter of urgency so that the College can investigate.” The College also expressed its commitment to maintaining its Hebrew language courses despite the pressure to cut academic ties with Israel.

Bryant’s resignation follows recent reported instances of antisemitism in Oxford University, including antisemitic graffiti at Regent’s Park College. On 9th May Prime Minister Rishi Sunak met with Vice-Chancellors from UK universities, including Oxford University’s Vice-Chancellor, Irene Tracey, about tackling antisemitism on campuses. 

Bryant’s full statement is as follows: 

Dear St. Hugh’s JCR,

I am writing to you today to inform you of my resignation, effectively immediately, from the JCR Committee.

I have been serving you since my first term of my first year, first as Environment and Ethics representative and then as Vice President.

As soon as I started at this university, I wanted to work on making it a better place for all students. I can no longer serve this aim.

Last night, I endured a three-hour JCR meeting regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As a Jewish student, I aimed to explain my own experiences of antisemitism which have been directly related to the way in which such debates have been conducted.

I also put forward my own motion asking for co-existence, dialogue, and a condemnation of the clear antisemitism that has come from some of the members of the encampment. I urge you to read this motion, titled ‘Coexistence,’ in full (appended to this letter).

I have watched my peers at this university chant to ‘Globalize the Intifada’ – a call for violence against Jews – but I was not prepared for it to come to St. Hugh’s College.

It is clear to me that some of the students last night did not come in good faith. At one point, when I pointed out that the St. Hugh’s Hebrew language program would effectively end under the Oxford Action for Palestine (OA4P) motion, the response I received was ‘So what?’ with a smile.

It is beyond the pale the blatant antisemitism I experienced in that room – my lived experiences were completely dismissed. Up until this point, I believed that people were just ignorant of reality: the living nightmare that many Jews, myself included, are living. We have faced hate on unpreceded levels in recent months; myself and Emanuel Bor exposed that truth last night, on the record.

Our vulnerability, honesty, and humanity were ignored.

My motion, asking for the basic principle of equal treatment and peace, was sent to a working group – effectively thrown out. The OA4P motion will now be voted on by the whole JCR – a motion that defames and delegitimizes the Jewish people. It denies our ties to our ancestral homeland, dehumanizes Israeli academics and students, and neglects to call out the actions of terrorists.

To every OA4P protestor reading these words, I ask of you: try your best not to dismiss me because I am a Jew who stood up for her people. It is not enough for you to reply by saying there are Jews at the encampment or insisting that Friday night dinners are available.

My Judaism is more than a Friday night dinner. My lived experience is more than a talking point. My humanity cannot be shrugged off.

I recognize that you seek justice for Palestinians, a minority group affected by destruction, displacement, and trauma. Palestinians have suffered immensely, but my resignation isn’t about Palestinians.

It’s about the Jews in Oxford. We sit next to you at lectures. We compete in Torpids with you. We dine in Hall together. We are here and we are human too. We are hurting. And while you will continue to demand justice for Palestine, I asked you to listen to both the Jews in Israel and the Jews in Oxford.

It is clear to me that this JCR either refuses to listen to my experiences, or just doesn’t care. Just as we recognized your suffering, we asked for recognition of our suffering too.

While the Israel-Hamas conflict might be thousands of miles away, the Jews of Oxford are right here. To every bystander reading my words, consider standing up for a small minority who have been bullied for our entire existence.

I won’t give up on trying for dialogue and fighting for my place in this college community. I want you to fight too. Check on your Jewish friends and ask them about their experiences. You might be surprised to hear a silent minority speak up.

And if this letter infuriates you, then check your biases. Why does it bother you when a Jew rightly points out antisemitism? Why is my lived experience worth any less than yours?

I will not serve a JCR that has treated me so cruelly. A JCR that laughed when Emanuel and I spoke. A JCR that refused to engage in productive debate and instead decided to shut down peace and progress.

The meeting last night was an insult to social justice and a win for antisemites everywhere.

Last night, the JCR refused to live up to the values and the community it ought to serve. It is a stain on this college’s history and it should be a stain on your consciences. St. Hugh’s College has an antisemitism problem.

With a heavy heart,

Madeline Bryant

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